Thursday, December 14, 2017

New Genetic Variations Linked to Additional Attainment: Genetic Overlap Between Cognitive Ability and Longevity

Researchers have identified genetic variations which correlate with cognitive abilities.  Scientists profiled the cognitive ability of 100,000 individuals, performing tests measuring neuropsychological state of individuals.  While performing these tests, researchers uncovered certain genes that overlap with longevity.   These researches found that a longer lifespan was accompanied by a genetic predisposition towards higher cognitive abilities.  A genetic overlap between cognitive ability and autoimmune diseases were also identified. 

However, in this study no specific gene was identified for being the cause or effector gene to link cognitive abilities to longer lifespans.  With further testing and studies, a more concise explanation for this linkage can be explained.  I believe this study to be important to scientific research because it can give scientists a better understanding into the human brain and how longevity relates to it.

People-sized penguins used to waddle around the arctic

The three- four foot tall emperor penguins are merely shadows of their giant ancestors.

At roughly 6 foot and up to 220 pounds, massive flightless birds were early marine predators at a time when there as limited competition. Until recently, it was thought that it was possible that penguins had only one-shared origin of gigantism. Until this discovery, it was believed that all other giant penguins of the past had evolved that trait together, and it was lost just the same. This discovery, of several bone fragments in New Zealand, changes the possibility of that idea. The fossils found, were actually the oldest penguin fossils found to date, and they eliminate the possibility that gigantism was an isolated event. In a further examination of the evolutionary tree, it was found that both the species found recently (Kumimanu) and a smaller species (Waimanu) were part of an extinct branch of the penguin. The 17 species alive today are part of a much younger branch. The extinct birds had much longer, stork-like beaks and slightly more flex in their wings (see picture in bottom left- Waimanu)
It is believed that penguins began to emerge at the time of the mass extinction. As many of the land animals and larger predators began to die off, the surviving feathered dinosaurs had to search for food elsewhere. The elimination of most larger marine predators left an open window for early penguins, and as a predator, size is usually beneficial. The birds could fully adapt to catching prey underwater with very little fear. With the emergence of marine mammals however, that would change. Larger marine mammals like whales would have hunted some of the larger birds while, on land, the larger penguins would run out of room. Because both mammals (like seals) and the birds use dry land to rest and raise their young, the larger birds would have been pushed away, while smaller ones could continue to coexist.
This idea makes sense, but it does not explain one thing. If larger birds evolved in a window of low competition, and then were driven out, why has gigantism appeared in multiple species among different points of the path? This hypothesis fails to account for several species which are actually much more related to modern penguins. And finally, if gigantism can evolve at individual and unrelated points, why are there no larger penguins waddling around today?

the Waimanu (left) was about the height of the modern emperor with many of traits of the giant Kumimanu like the stork-like beak and bent, non blade-like wings

Microbes turn waste into fuel

Everybody loves eating greek yogurt, its great for you, packed with protein, and has plenty of probiotics in it to aid in digestion.  However, the process of creating the perfect yogurt formula creates a large amount of waste in the form of liquid whey.  In an article found on Science Daily, researchers have discovered a way to possibly turn this waste into biofuel or feedstock additives.  By using microbes to to break down the leftover fructose molecules into two more useful compounds such as caproic acid and caprylic acid.  Being able to break down this waste material means a better source of additives for feedstock of animals in the place of antibiotics.
This article interested me because I eat a lot of greek yogurt but did not know how much waste was actually created.  With researchers looking for new ways to turn waste into something useful there would be very little actual waste as the majority of the compounds needed to create greek yogurt have a purpose, whether it is to be put into the yogurt itself or to be sent elsewhere as another compound to be added to another formula.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Single mitochondria sequenced

Image result for dna sequencing

A single mitochondrion was extracted, and their DNA sequences were analyzed.  Mitochondria have their own DNA or mtDNA, a mitochondrion can hold 10 or more different genomes.  Dr. James Eberwine, extracted a single mitochondrion and then extracted its mtDNA.  With the newly extracted mtDNA they looked at the neurons of human and mouse cells to compare mutations of each.  They discovered that the mouse cells had more mutations than compared to the human cells.  The study showed the mutations in mtDNA in the same cell, even though most mutations or different for the individual person.  Neurons and astrocytes in the brain were also examined in the experiment.  This now helps better understanding the limit for diseases involving increasing numbers of mitochondrial mutations.  Neurologist will be able to diagnose neurological disease, and help detect that could potentially harm the individual.  Since mtDNA mutations have been found to be more frequent with the elder and growing in age, this can help them understand the conditions better.  The end goal of this is to slow mtDNA mutation accumulation so that they can potentially stop disease before they completely form.  Researchers now have a better understanding of where to start when looking for DNA that could be affected by a mutation.

Pancreatic Cancer Survival Rate Linked to 4 Genes

According to a new study in JAMA Oncology, alterations in 4 specific genes indicate how long a patient with pancreatic cancer will survive. The activity of these 4 genes were analyzed: KRAS, CDKN2A, SMAD4, and TP53. This study involved 356 patients who all had pancreatic adenocarcinoma, which is the most common type of pancreas tumor. The tumor was surgically removed and scientists extracted DNA from the cancerous and normal tissues. Disease-free survival indicates the time between surgery and when the cancer returns. Overall survival indicates the time from surgery to death. Patients who had 3 or 4 of the altered genes had worse survival odds in both disease-free survival and overall survival. This research helps researchers, doctors, etc. understand how the disease is likely going to progress in each patient and how to further guide these patients. The article stated that a recent study has shown that "an accurate classification of pancreatic cancer's spread to the lymph nodes is also an effective tool to predict disease survival in surgery-eligible patients."

Because of the findings in this study, future research studies will be more advanced in design. I feel that this research helps Oncology physicians get a better understanding of how to treat each patient with pancreatic cancer. Some may need more strict guidance than others due to their odds of survival. I think that future research will find a way to minimize the mortality rate of pancreatic cancer by improving and strengthening treatments for the patients in critical condition. I also feel that this research gives the patients with pancreatic cancer a better understanding of their condition and a chance to ask questions about what to do next after surgery. I found this article very interesting, but I would like to see more in this study by researching other aggressive cancers with poor survival odds, such as breast cancer.

What Did Rudolph's Mom Do?


            We always discuss how Rudolph led Santa’s sleigh that one foggy night, but we never discuss why his nose glows red in the first place! A biologist, Steve Farber, decided to take a look into this fictional character to see why his nose may have glowed red. The answer he came up with is a one-in-a-million event, slightly more likely than seeing a flying reindeer, but the hypothesis makes complete sense.

            So, here’s how! There are other creatures that glow with color through bioluminescence or fluorescence, such as jellyfish, sea anemones, and zebrafish, if any genetic material from one of these organisms found a way into Rudolph’s DNA – BOOM, he too can now glow with color. Now the question is, how did this fluoresce end up in his DNA? – his mother! While she was pregnant she may have come upon Anthozoan coral, a red species found in shallow tropical waters (why was she in the water? The world may never know) which she cut herself on. The coral DNA may have entered her bloodstream, and then traveled from her blood into a virus-like genetic element that transferred it into the egg cell that then formed Rudolph. This entire process is called horizontal gene transfer! With Rudolph, instead of being transferred into his skin, the gene was expressed in his nasal epithelial cells – his nose, which caused it to glow red versus no glow at all. Now, we know why Rudolph might have had a red glowing nose to help Santa guide his sleigh and no one else!

Bioelectronic 'nose' can detect food spoilage by sensing the smell of death

        Nobody enjoys eating food only to figure out a few hours later that it was actually spoiled/rotten. Thankfully, there are studies being done to help us detect whether food is healthy enough to be eaten by a human being. There has been a bioelectronic "nose" created that has the ability to detect food spoilage by sensing the smell of "death." The "nose" is able to specifically indicate whether something has a key decay compound known as Cadaverine - even in very low levels. This compound is responsible for the repulsive smell that comes from food gone bad as well as the stench of rotting bodies, or cadavers - hence the name. The reaction is a result of a bacterial action involving lysine, which is an amino acid commonly found in various food products. Now that they created a sensitive and specific detector for cadaverine they used real-life salmon and beef to test their "discovery" and it actually worked extremely well! Something else this can lead to is being able to sniff for bodies that have died as a result of a natural disaster or a crime because it will be able to detect the cadaverine emitting foul smells from the deceased bodies.

Bioelectronic Nose Can Detect Food Spoilage

An article from The Science Daily talks about researchers working on bioelectronic noses and how they can detect spoiled food or something dead. When food rots, a repulsive smell comes out, and that is due to a bacterial reaction involving lysine, which is an amino acid. Researchers wanted to create receptors that were affinity for cadaverine, which basically helps zebrafish sense something rotting or dead. Scientists turned E. coli as a host cell, and protein was made in a bacterial cell. Seughun Hong and his colleagues wanted to see if these receptors they created was able to put into nanodiscs that can detect cadaverine. The scientists were successful at putting the receptors into nanodiscs, which led to creating a bioelectric nose which can detect rotting or dead things. This was a very cool article but very short. This topic can help out with finding bodies during investigations. Its cool to see how a bioelectric nose can detect dead things, how science can revolutionize implementing cells with technology.